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Celebrating Failure: A path towards opening up disciplinary debate
01 November 2021
Celebrating Failure: A path towards opening up disciplinary debate
Failure: the fact of someone or something not succeeding (Cambridge dictionary)
As the definition above demonstrates, failure is generally placed in opposition to success. It is conceptualised as a lack, whether in the ability to fully control something or falling short of a target. While market failures of all types have been assessed and analysed, perhaps even ‘solved’ in the marketing literature, we take note of recent debates around failure and creativity in management studies (Alvesson & Kärreman, 2016; Alvesson & Sandberg, 2013; Tourish, 2020). We would therefore like to bring this debate closer to home and open a discussion about failure in our field.
Rather than seeing failure as the opposite of success however, we understand failure in a Foucauldian sense, as a consequence of incompleteness and indeed of any unsuccessful attempts of controlling and dominating processes (Malpas & Wickham, 1995). In liberating failure from a mechanistic and simplistic view, we understand it as part of any epistemological process. As such, failure should be celebrated as a creative way of resisting any attempt to hide the incompleteness of our work. More broadly, failure should be celebrated as an attempt to resist disciplinary governance (Brownlie, 2006) and its various attempts to dominate plurality and diversity in doing and disseminating research (CohenMiller et al., 2020).
There is a rich history of work, particularly in critical marketing which has sought to expand the horizons of our scholarly debate by examining the performance of knowledge claims in our field. Key concerns as to the institutionalised forms of gatekeeping framing our theorisations were set out in this very journal as part of a Special Issue on the production of disciplinary space (Brownlie et al., 2009). More than a decade later, we seek to revisit these debates. It is now clear that many have heeded the call to “problematise the status of knowledge claims” (p. 638) in our discipline. Some of this has looked to the past, uncovering forgotten contributions and provocations (Tadajewski, 2010; Tadajewski & Maclaran, 2013). Other work has provided alternative forms of research interpretation, methodological perspectives and epistemological lenses (e.g. Harman et al., 2020; Patterson & Larsen, 2019; Preece & Kerrigan, 2021; Rokka et al., 2018; see also the recent Special Issue on epistemological challenges in studying consumption and family in Qualitative Market Research, Cappellini et al., 2021). These new sensitivities proved to be fruitful paths in investigating vulnerable groups, elucidating hidden power structures and questioning marginalising representations (Downey, 2016; Higgins, 2020; Hutton, 2016; Kravets et al., 2020; Larsen, 2017; Larsen et al., 2014; Preece & Telford, 2020; Rodner & Preece, 2019; also see the Special Section on taboo in consumption and marketing of this journal, Larsen & Patterson, 2018). Recent research has also confronted racism and racial dynamics in marketing (see, for example the recent Special Issue on marketing and managing racial dynamics of this journal, Thomas et al., 2020 as well as Francis & Robertson, 2021) and has also bought attention to wider stakeholders and alternative systems (e.g. Casey et al., 2020; Lloveras et al., 2018). Indeed, as the greatest failure of the market, climate change illustrates the need for reframing capitalist measure of success whereby progress is understood as an increase in the total quantity of commodities we produce and consume each year at the expense of labour and resources of the global South (Chatzidakis et al., 2014; Hickel, 2020). Forthcoming Special Issues, such as the one on #MeToo in this journal (Prothero & Tadajewski) and on hierarchies of knowledge in Marketing Theory (Kravets & Varman) are sure to uncover additional blind spots of our field. We suggest that a focus on failure can further enable us to stretch the limits of marketing inquiry.
By adopting the lens of failure, we consider that all academic works are incomplete in their epistemological process, thus partly failing (Clark & Sousa, 2020). In this special issue we would like to critically examine, theorise and problematise the concept of failure, something which all researchers experience, although it may be hard to tell looking at our polished conference presentations and glossy journal articles. In particular, we specifically seek to interrogate the consequences for our discipline in hiding failures and in constantly thriving for individual success via low-risk research projects that are ‘easily’ and ‘quickly’ publishable. As such our initial questions are: what can we learn by examining our personal and collective research failures? What happens if rather than downplaying or overcoming failure, we celebrate it? Answering this might imply unearthing those long abandoned dusty data sets and considering whether, in a research culture which seems to require ever increasing levels of productivity in the face of vanishing security, there are spaces for collective resistance (Clare, 2019). Taken further, there is a need to reconceptualise the concept of failure to expose the serendipity of outcomes that can result from mistakes. We take inspiration from glitch feminism (Russell, 2020) whereby a glitch provides liberation and revolution, breaking down binaries and limitations.
Papers might provide, for example, reflections on failures and cul-de-sacs experienced at various stages of the research process; engaging with theoretical debates about the very notion of ‘data’ and ‘researcher.’ While we know that research requires risk-taking to make new discoveries, the fear of failure is never very far, and this clearly has an impact on the research we chose to do and what – and who - gets published (Alvesson & Sandberg, 2013). Given the impact of the pandemic, which is increasing various forms of inequality in academia (gender inequality, sessional work, instability and precarity, increased pressure on early careers and a growing divide between research and teaching-focused universities) and the significance and reliance of academics and institutions on rankings such as REF and ABS list (Grey, 2010; Tourish & Willmott, 2015), there is a need to consider how we can maintain perspective, autonomy and authenticity as ‘failing’ researchers without succumbing to the isomorphic pressures of academic conservatism.
We welcome conceptual or empirical original papers from a wide variety of methodological and disciplinary perspectives engaged (but not limited) with the following:
• Understandings of failing and failures in doing marketing research
• The politics of success and productivity in doing marketing research
• Navigating between wellbeing and productivity, how do we foster a culture of care in academia?
• Rejection and risk-taking, broadening the horizons of the discipline
• Publication bias in terms of contexts studied, models, frameworks, dominant logics, and methodologies taken
• Negative findings and lessons learned
• Pathways to resilience, how do we come to terms with, and even celebrate, our failures?
• Accounts of rational - and irrational - alarm, dread, anxiety, shame and distress in the research process
• Researcher trauma, exploitation and failure
• Examinations of marketing glitches which expose the vested interests of power within the marketing academy and its legitimating institutions
• Failure as resistance to the neoliberal marketisation of higher education
In the spirit of this call for papers we also welcome alternative submissions, however, please contact the Special Issue editors if you are considering this as an option.
Authors should submit manuscripts of between 8,000–10,000 words (excluding tables, references, captions, footnotes and endnotes). All submissions must strictly follow the guidelines for JMM.
Manuscripts should be submitted online using the JMM ScholarOne Manuscripts site. Choose “Special Issue Article” from the Manuscript Type list, and when you come to the ‘Details and Comments’ page, answer ‘yes’ to the question ‘Is this manuscript a candidate for a special issue’ and select the Special Issue Title of Celebrating Failure in the text field provided.
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